Live music is making a comeback in Cork City – but not as you know it

The Kino live music venue in Cork. Photograph: Ellen McVeigh

Following months of stagnancy for the live music industry across the world, the gig scene is slowly returning to Ireland’s second city, giving a lifeline to struggling artists and venues; but social distancing guidelines continue to affect the way they operate, with fully-seated and reduced capacity events becoming the norm. 

In mid-August, as the Irish government announced that indoor events in “controlled circumstances” could go ahead with a maximum of 50 people, several live music venues in Cork began scheduling socially distanced, seated gigs. 

Local band Pretty Happy played their first gigs since February in the Kino on the 17th and 18th of September. Vocalist Arann Blake said they were itching to get back on stage: “there’s nothing like a live gig, it’s a different energy.” 

The Kino, a recently refurbished music and theatre venue in the city centre, has reduced their capacity from 200 to just 40, all seated at cabaret-style tables for two to five people. 

Not only are venues forced to completely reimagine their layout to contend with the regulations, the artists also have to tailor their sets to this new normal. Blake said that “with it being a seated show it’s much more of a visual spectacle, so you can’t get away with just staring at the floor.”

Before the pandemic, Cork was well-established as a hub for live music, with thriving independent venues, artists and record labels. The return of live music to the city gives hope to those who rely on the industry for their livelihood, creative outlet or simply their social life.

JJ Lee, a regular gig-goer and manager of small record label Teletext Records, said that many of those involved in the industry had to grapple with emotional as well as financial losses from the pandemic. “We all have such a weirdly intimate and personal relationship with live music, it’s hard to be apart from it for so long.”

However, concerns remain about the future of live music in Cork, as social distancing measures are not expected to ease soon. While larger venues such as the Kino, run by established events organiser The Good Room, may have the capacity and resources to adapt to the guidelines, many smaller operations do not see a future in the short term.

For smaller promoters, the current restrictions have forced them to put their plans on hold. Lee said that for Teletext Records, with a small voluntary team, “it’s probably all on the backburner for the foreseeable, until the situation changes.” 

In a Facebook post, the Cork venue Fred Zeppelin’s, with a capacity of just 80, said that they had to close indefinitely due to current restrictions, rather than opening as a “pale imitation” of their former self. 

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